Bulgarians from the central city of Veliko Tarnovo have organized an illegal network for senior home care by exploiting Bulgarian workers, according to an investigation by the Belgian media outlets Knack and Telefacts. The revelations have also sparked a political scandal in Belgium, and the opposition has asked the Social Minister to take action against fraud in this sector.

The seniors had been lured through the Belgian site of the company Seniorcare24.be, but had actually signed a contract with Bulgarian companies for EUR 2,500-3,000 per month. The companies had sent Bulgarians to Belgium, who had been paid three times less.

“The Bulgarians had been working 24 hours a day 7 days a week for a monthly salary of between EUR 350 and 700; this is modern slavery,” says Flemish MP Jan Bertels.

One of these Bulgarian companies has been probed in 2016 by Belgian inspectors. They found that the 82 people working for the company were not paid enough and the legislation on working hours and rest periods had not been respected. The workers had been threatened with layoffs and penalties if they told the inspectors.

Bivol’s investigation established that the Bulgarian companies behind Seniorcare24 are owned by Angel Chakarov and his two daughters Silviya Angelova Chakarova and Tereza Angelova Chakarova, who also boast Belgian last names: Caroy Müller. After being subjected to inspections in 2016, the company CARE 4 YOU had been transferred to a strawman. All companies are registered in Veliko Tarnovo.

The Veliko Tarnovo-based newspaper Borba, part of the media empire of controversial lawmaker Delyan Peevski, paints another picture of this “modern slavery”. An advertorial (a newspaper or magazine advertisement giving information about a product in the style of an editorial or objective journalistic article) from 2010 states that Chakarov’s firms were providing excellent work conditions abroad for women between 40 and 60 years of age. The workers had been so grateful that they had even inundated the newspaper with praise for their employer.

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